On October 9, 2015, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) released a report regarding the vulnerabilities of the nation’s energy infrastructure, with a focus on specific energy sectors and geographic regions. In addition to risks faced nationwide—such as extreme weather events and increased demand—the report highlights vulnerabilities that are more acute for certain energy producers and users. For example, the report concludes that thermoelectric power generation in the Midwest, Great Plains and Southern regions is especially at risk due to an anticipated reduction in water availability. Hydropower in areas of the West is expected to be impacted by decreasing snow pack levels. Bioenergy crops are identified as being at heightened risk in the Midwest and Northern Great Plains. Regulators are not the only ones expressing concern. The private sector is also speaking, and taking action. In the lead-up to the recent, possible landfall of Hurricane Joaquin in the New York metropolitan area, energy sector firms discussed their efforts to address the increasing risk. Con Edison described its ongoing, four-year, $2 billion plan to harden its physical assets; and some chemical and petroleum storage facility operators sought to provide comfort that they were deploying additional release prevention (i.e., SPCC, etc.) measures in anticipation of possible storm impacts.
Whatever timeline the international political community may be creating or following in the assessment of, and planning around, climate change effects in the United States, one thing appears clear: Being unprepared for climate change—with regard to both acute weather events/conditions and long-term business viability—is not a tenable legal (not to mention business) strategy for companies in the energy industry. The “fix it now” or “fix [much more] [and pay claims] later” motto is fully in play.